Bible Diary for May 8th – 14th
4th Sunday of Easter
1st Reading: Acts 13:14, 43-52:
While they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. On the Sabbath day they entered the synagogue and sat down. After that, when the assembly broke up, many Jews and devout God-fearing people followed them; and to these, they spoke, urging them to hold fast to the grace of God. The following Sabbath almost the entire city gathered to listen to Paul, who spoke a fairly long time about the Lord. But the presence of such a crowd made the Jews jealous. So they began to oppose, with insults, whatever Paul said.
Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out firmly, saying, “It was necessary, that God’s word be first proclaimed to you, but since you now reject it, and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we turn to non-Jewish people. For thus we were commanded by the Lord: I have set you as a light to the pagan nations, so that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Those who were not Jews rejoiced, when they heard this, and praised the message of the Lord; and all those, destined for everlasting life, believed in it.
Thus the word spread, throughout the whole region. Some of the Jews, however, incited God-fearing women of the upper class, and the leading men of the city, as well, and stirred up an intense persecution against Paul and Barnabas. Finally, they had them expelled from their region. The apostles shook the dust from their feet, in protest against this people, and went to Iconium, leaving; the disciples, filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
2nd Reading: Rev 7:9, 14b-17:
After this, I saw a great crowd, impossible to count, from every nation, race, people and tongue, standing before the throne, and the Lamb, clothed in white, with palm branches in their hands, “They, are those who have come out of the great persecution; they have washed, and made their clothes white, in the blood of the Lamb. This is why they stand before the throne of God, and serve him, day and night, in his Sanctuary. He, who sits on the throne, will spread his tent over them. Never again, will they suffer hunger or thirst, or be burned by the sun, or any scorching wind. For the Lamb, near the throne, will be their Shepherd, and he will bring them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away their tears.”
Gospel: Jn 10:27-30:
“My sheep hear my voice and I know them; they follow me and I give them eternal life. They shall never perish, and no one will ever steal them from me. What my Father has given me, is greater than all things else. To snatch it out of the Father’s hand, no one is able! I and the Father are One.”
At the time of Jesus in Palestine there were lots of shepherds and flocks of sheep. Yet never would you see a sheep inadvertently landing into a flock not his own. Why not? Because any sheep would recognize the voice of its shepherd and would never follow any other voice. This universal phenomenon is hinted at by Jesus in today’s gospel reading when he says: “My sheep hear my voice and I know them; they follow me…. In a sense we could say that the essence of Christian life is to become attuned to Christ’s voice resonating in our hearts and gently drawing us into becoming loving persons. This is called in more technical terms “the discernment of spirits.”
For the Evil One is also tugging at the strings of our hearts—but with the view of making us more selfish, more self-centered, less loving. Mature Christians are usually quite adept in discerning between these two discordant voices. They know by experience that the more they choose to listen to the voice of their Shepherd, the more they experience eternal life already in this life. For the goal of our Shepherd, as stated clearly by Jesus in today’s gospel reading, is “give them eternal life.” The essence of Christian life is to become attuned to Christ’s voice resonating in our hearts and gently drawing us into becoming loving persons. Let us implore the Spirit to help us recognize Christ’s voice in our hearts. Before an important decision today, let us stop and listen to what our Shepherd is suggesting that we do.
1st Reading: Acts 11:1-18:
The Apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles too had accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem the circumcised believers confronted him, saying, “You entered the house of uncircumcised people and ate with them.” Peter began and explained it to them step by step, saying, “I was at prayer in the city of Joppa when in a trance I had a vision, something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered from the sky by its four corners, and it came to me. Looking intently into it, I observed and saw the four-legged animals of the earth, the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky. I also heard a voice say to me, ‘Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat.’
“But I said, ‘Certainly not, sir, because nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time a voice from heaven answered, ‘What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.’ This happened three times, and then everything was drawn up again into the sky. Just then three men appeared at the house where we were, who had been sent to me from Caesarea. The Spirit told me to accompany them without discriminating. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. He related to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, saying, ‘Send someone to Joppa and summon Simon, who is called Peter, who will speak words to you by which you and all your household will be saved.’
“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them as it had upon us at the beginning, and I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?” When they heard this, they stopped objecting and glorified God, saying, “God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too.”
Gospel: Jn 10:1-10:
Truly, I say to you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate, but climbs in some other way, is a thief and a robber. But the shepherd of the sheep enters by the gate. The keeper opens the gate to him and the sheep hear his voice; he calls each of his sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but rather they will run away from him, because they don’t recognize a stranger’s voice.
Jesus used this comparison, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, I am the gate of the sheep. All who came were thieves and robbers, and the sheep did not hear them. I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved; he will go in and out freely and find food. The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come that they may have life, life in all its fullness.”
In his all-time best-selling book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie writes: “We should be aware of the magic contained in a name… A person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.“ Why is this? Because our name sets us apart as individuals, it makes us unique among all others. Not surprisingly, many times in the Bible God states that he is calling people by their name (Gen 35:10; Ex 33:12; Is 41:25; 43:1; 45:3; 49:1).
The reason for this is simply that God is always eager to establish with us a personalized relationship. God does not save groups. He saves Jane and Tom and Judy and Mike. This is what Jesus hints at in today’s gospel reading when he states that the good Shepherd “calls each of his sheep by name.” This is because he wants to touch our hearts and to win our love. By calling each one of us by name, he tells us that each one of us is unique in his eyes, irreplaceable. How shall we respond to this kind of naked love and devotion?
St. Damien de Veuster
1st Reading: Acts 11:19-26:
Those who had been scattered, because of the persecution over Stephen, traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, proclaiming the message, but only to the Jews. But there were some natives of Cyprus and Cyrene among them who, on coming into Antioch, spoke also to the Greeks, giving them the good news of the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them so that a great number believed and turned to the Lord. News of this reached the ears of the Church in Jerusalem, so they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
When he arrived and saw the manifest signs of God’s favor, he rejoiced and urged them all to remain firmly faithful to the Lord; for he, himself, was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith. Thus large crowds came to know the Lord. Then Barnabas went off to Tarsus, to look for Saul; and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year, they had meetings with the Church and instructed many people. It was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.
Gospel: Jn 10:22-30:
The time came for the feast of the Dedication. It was winter, and Jesus walked back and forth in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in doubt? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have already told you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name proclaim who I am, but you don’t believe because, as I said, you are not my sheep. My sheep hear my voice and I know them; they follow me and I give them eternal life. They shall never perish, and no one will ever steal them from me. What my Father has given me, is greater than all things else. To snatch it out of the Father’s hand, no one is able! I and the Father are One.”
Childhood habits and beliefs die hard. Furthermore, we always tend to privilege the group we happen to belong to—to the point sometimes of rejecting completely all “outsiders.” This was the situation in the Catholic Church 60 or 70 years ago. A lot of Catholics were convinced that all non-Catholics were of bad faith and therefore could never be saved. Fortunately, then came Council Vatican II which declared that all persons sincerely following their conscience could be saved. However, to this day there are still conservative Catholics who view Protestants as more or less destined to Hell. Childhood habits and beliefs die hard.
This explains what we observe in the Book of Acts concerning the resistance of converted Jews to accept the idea that pagans, too, could become Christians. All their lives they had been told that everything in the Law of Moses was indispensable for salvation. And now they were seeing the Holy Spirit fall on pagans—to their utter bewilderment. It is interesting to notice in today’s first reading that the first Jews who were open to receiving pagans into the church were “natives of Cyprus and Cyrene.” Because these had grown up outside Palestine, they knew that a lot of non-Jews were worthy of becoming Christians.
1st Reading: Acts 12:24–13:5a:
Meanwhile the word of God was increasing and spreading. Barnabas and Saul carried out their mission and then came back to Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark. There were at Antioch—in the Church which was there—prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Symeon known as Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod, and Saul. On one occasion, while they were celebrating the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said to them, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul to do the work for which I have called them.” So, after fasting and praying, they laid their hands on them and sent them off. These then, sent by the Holy Spirit, went down to the port of Seleucia and from there sailed to Cyprus. Upon their arrival in Salamis they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogue.
Gospel: Jn 12:44-50:
Yet Jesus had said, and even cried out, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me, but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me, sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I am not the one to condemn him; for I have come, not to condemn the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me, and does not receive my words, already has a judge: the very words I have spoken will condemn him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father, who sent me, has instructed me what to say and how to speak. I know that his commandment is eternal life, and that is why the message I give, I give as the Father instructed me.”
In all the gospel readings we have come across in the past couple of weeks, one theme is endlessly recurring, always the same under countless variations. And it is this one: Jesus and his Father act in perfect unison. In fact, we hear Jesus proclaim that they are perfectly one: “The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30) “Whoever sees me sees the one who sent me” (Jn 12:45) “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9) “Father, you are in me and I am in you” (Jn 17:21). Now these declarations give us a precious key for understanding the Old Testament correctly.
Because there it is said many times that God kills babies (cf. the Great Flood, the Tenth Plague of Egypt, the Holy Wars of extermination) and punishes ruthlessly the sinner. Yet, when Jesus comes he welcomes children, never punishes anybody, meekly lets himself be crucified. This complete dissonance between the angry God of the Old Testament and the gentle Jesus of the New Testament invites us to correct the image of the angry God: this image is pure projection of the Old Testament authors’ personal convictions about God—not a realistic depiction of who God really is.
Sts. Nereus and Achilleus
1st Reading: Acts 13:13-25:
From Paphos, Paul and his companions set sail and came to Perga in Pamphylia. There, John left them and returned to Jerusalem, while they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. On the Sabbath day they entered the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent this message to them, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the assembly, please speak up.”
So Paul arose, motioned to them for silence and began, “Fellow Israelites and, also, all you who fear God, listen. The God of our people Israel chose our ancestors; and after he had made them increase during their stay in Egypt, he led them out by powerful deeds. For forty years he fed them in the desert; and after he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. All this took four hundred and fifty years. After that, he gave them Judges, until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul, son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin; and he was king for forty years.
“After that time, God removed him and raised up David as king, to whom he bore witness saying: I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will do all I want him to do. It is from the descendants of David that God has now raised up the promised Savior of Israel, Jesus. Before he appeared, John proclaimed a baptism of repentance for all the people of Israel. As John was ending his life’s work, he said: ‘I am not what you think I am, for, after me, another one is coming, whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.’”
Gospel: Jn 13:16-20:
Truly, I say to you, the servant is not greater than his master, nor is the messenger greater than he who sent him. Understand this, and blessed are you, if you put it into practice. I am not speaking of you all, because I know the ones I have chosen, and the Scripture has to be fulfilled which says: The one who shares my table will rise up against me. I tell you this now before it happens, so that when it does happen, you may know that I am He. Truly, I say to you, whoever welcomes the one I send, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the One who sent me.”
We see in a few verses preceding today’s first reading that a young man named John “who is called Mark” and whose mother resided in Jerusalem, was associated with Barnabas and Paul at one point (Acts 12:12, 25). Now we learn from Col 4:10 that Mark was a cousin of Barnabas, which explains why the latter is keen on bringing him along on Paul’s and Barnabas’ First Missionary Journey (Acts 13:5). However, as we are told in today’s first reading, young Mark got homesick in mid-trip and returned to his Mom in Jerusalem. End of Act I.
Act II begins with Barnabas wanting to take along Mark on their Second Missionary Journey (Acts 16:36-39), but Paul refused, and he and Barnabas henceforth parted ways, Barnabas working with his young cousin. End of Act II. In Act III, we see a more mature Mark having reconciled with Paul and, in fact, having become one of Paul’s “co-workers” (Plm 24) and “helpful in the ministry” (2 Tim 4:11). In conclusion, Barnabas saw in Mark a potential that Paul could not see. He believed that his young and immature cousin could grow up into a fine apostle. Barnabas was right. With a bit of trust in them, some young people can develop beautifully.
Our Lady of Fatima
1st Reading: Acts 13:26-33:
Brothers, children and descendants of Abraham, and you, also, who fear God, it is to you that this message of salvation has been sent. It is a fact, that the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and their leaders, did not recognize Jesus. Yet, in condemning him, they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath, but not understood. Even though they found no charge against him that deserved death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And after they had carried out all that had been written concerning him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb.
But God raised him from the dead, and for many days thereafter, he showed himself, to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They have now become his witnesses before the people. We, ourselves, announce to you this Good News: All that God promised our ancestors, he has fulfilled, for us, their descendants, by raising Jesus, according to what is written in the second psalm: You are my Son, today I have begotten you.
Gospel: Jn 14:1-6:
“Do not be troubled! Trust in God and trust in me! In my Father’s house there are many rooms; otherwise, I would not have told you that I go to prepare a place for you. After I have gone and prepared a place for you, I shall come again and take you to me, so that where I am, you also may be. Yet you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.
In today’s gospel reading we hear Jesus make a strange statement: “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” This statement means that, of the hundreds of billions of humans who lived, are living, and will live on this planet Earth, not one of them will ultimately find God in Heaven (“come to the Father”) without passing through Jesus. Why is this statement strange? Because it presupposes that the great majority of humans (think of all the people who lived and died before Christ came among us, as also of all the people who, even after the Incarnation, never heard of Jesus and lived completely pagan lives) will be saved (i.e. reach the Father in an eternity of bliss) only through the action of Jesus.
Now as Christians we understand how this works out for us because we have the figure of Christ constantly under our eyes, as it were. But what about Muslims and Animists and Hindus and agnostics and atheists? Jesus tells us that somehow he reaches all of them. How? By silently speaking to their conscience. Vatican II tells us that “conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God” (GS 16).
1st Reading: Acts 1:15-17, 20-26:
Peter stood up in the midst of the brothers and sisters (there was a group of about one hundred and twenty persons in the one place). He said, “My brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand through the mouth of David, concerning Judas, who was the guide for those who arrested Jesus. Judas was numbered among us and was allotted a share in this ministry. For it is written in the Book of Psalms: Let his encampment become desolate, and may no one dwell in it. and: May another take his office.
“Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to his resurrection.” So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.” Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the Eleven Apostles.
Gospel: Jn 15:9-17:
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love! You will remain in my love if you keep my commandments, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you all this, that my own joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: Love one another as I have loved you! There is no greater love than this, to give one’s life for one’s friends; and you are my friends, if you do what I command you.
I shall not call you servants anymore, because servants do not know what their master is about. Instead, I have called you friends, since I have made known to you everything I learned from my Father. You did not choose me; it was I who chose you and sent you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. And everything you ask the Father in my name, he will give you. This is my command, that you love one another.
In today’s gospel reading Jesus says something about friendship which is worth reflecting upon. He says to his disciples during the Last Supper: “I have called you friends, since I have made known to you everything I learned from my Father.” In other words, Jesus tell us, true friends are individuals who trust you enough to share with you their most personal secrets and whom you trust enough to share with them your most personal secrets. Now everybody wants to have friends. But in order to have friends— real friends, not just drinking buddies or shopping sisters—we must deserve to have them.
Which means that we must become capable of keeping other people’s secrets, of accepting people as they are, of being willing to share our own dark secrets with others. St. Thomas Aquinas classifies friendship as a virtue. And it sure is, because in true friendship we practice a lot of virtues (i.e. good habits) such as patience, fidelity to our word, forgiveness, kindness, etc. That is why not many people are willing to become friends, because real friendships are so demanding and so painful to our selfishness. But those who accept the rigors of friendship would not exchange them for all the world. They know they have found a treasure.